My view of the coalition government is that, for good or bad, it is a one-sided affair. Looking at its announcements in isolation, without reflecting on who is involved, you may reasonably assume it is a ‘pure’ Conservative administration.
But if there is one policy where the Lib Dems have not rolled over completely, it is housing.
Of course the Lib Dem election manifesto housing commitments have been lost, seemingly without trace. Anyway, they were few and they were vague – 1.5m new homes without any substantial explanation how; a desire for more empty homes to come back into use; a call for local people to have more influence on second home numbers in their area; plus the whacky idea of putting VAT on new homes.
We haven’t heard much about these policies now that the Lib Dems say they are ‘in power’ and I doubt we will hear about them in the next four and a half years.
But there has been some Lib Dem sniping at the Conservative housing policies that have formed a surprisingly major part of the Coalition’s work to date. That sniping has been aimed at trying to soften the hard line, especially on social housing, that is beginning to emerge from the government.
Simon Hughes, Lib Dem deputy leader, wants council housing Right to Buy to be abolished in England as it has already in Scotland, and shortly in Wales. That’s not surprising – Hughes’ constituency has more council housing than any other constituency in England, and one of the most severe shortages of homes, too. Housing minister Grant Shapps has dismissed any prospect of even a review, although whether that was window-dressing to placate Tories who regard RTB as a sacred cow remains to be seen.
Likewise Hughes has spoken against David Cameron’s desire to end lifetime tenures for social housing tenants. And some Liberal Democrats at local level, where they know of the scale of housing shortages, have also spoken out loudly against the ‘localism’ planning ideas.
Grant Shapps, one of the Conservatives’ most able ministers today and far more interested in housing than most of his Labour predecessors over the past 13 years, will be at the Lib Dem conference.
It will be interesting to see if this is mere appeasement or whether the Lib Dems – who so far seem much more pleased to be in power than to actually use their power - will be seen to finally have some real influence at the Top Table. If it is the latter, some evidence may appear this week.
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